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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

August 9, 2011 at 5:12 PM

Sport chinook fishery will not occur in Elliott Bay, but tribes will have a reduced fishery starting tomorrow night

Word has been circulating among sport anglers that there could be an emergency opening after Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribal fishermen during their final of three once-a-week test fisheries had seen improved catches in Elliott Bay that overlooks the Emerald City.

The Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes finished their final test fishery in Elliott Bay last Thursday, and caught 175 chinook. During the previous test fisheries on July 20 they caught 53 chinook, and then on July 27 they tallied another 122 fish.

Last year, the first week’s test fishery landed five chinook, the following week it was seven and the final week catch was 60. In 2009, the test fishery also generated some very small numbers of 20 or less chinook in each test netting period, totaling 83. During those years, the inner-bay was also open to sport fishing for chinook.

“We looked at how well does that (the three test net fisheries) compare to past years, but what everyone knows the test data isn’t good at projecting the run size, , particularly of wild fish,” said Pat Pattillo, the salmon policy coordinator for state Fish and Wildlife.

When state Fish and Wildlife and co-tribal managers finalized fishing seasons at the North of Falcon meetings in April they came to the conclusion that inner Elliott Bay would be closed this summer for recreational chinook fishing to protect Green River naturally spawning chinook, which were expected to return in low numbers.

To give one a perspective on how test fisheries have resulted in past years one needs to look at 2010 when the last week of the test fishery generated a catch of 60 chinook, and in 2009 it was 83 fish. In other years like 2007 there was 178 caught, and in 2006 it was 419.

“The 175 fish catch is not a high number, and still below the average for recent years, but it still gave us some optimism and much better than what we had seen the last few years,” Pattillo said. “Then we looked at what does that mean overall, and we sort of scratched our heads.”

Pattillo says they looked at how things were shaping up in the rest of Puget Sound, and noticed chinook returns early on in Lake Washington were not doing well; hatchery chinook catches in central and northern Puget Sound (Areas 9 and 10) aren’t doing well; and there are some good chinook catches at Sekiu (Area 5), but that seems like a long ways away from the bay.

What follows is the tribes have decided to open a net fishery starting Wednesday night (Aug. 10) for 8 hours compared to a normal opening of 12 hours, and they will only fish in the lower part of the Duwamish River, and close the upper mile that they would normally fish, which is known as the turning basin.

“They proposed something that was more conservative than they have in the past years,” Pattillo said “We told them we would not object to their fishery, but didn’t feel comfortable. The bay will not be open to chinook for sport fishermen and we’ll stick with our schedule.”

The spawning escapement goal is 5,800 chinook.

In recent years such a full commercial opening has generated an average catch of about 3,000 chinook, so fisheries managers are expecting something less than that although it will be very hard to tell what to expect since it is a smaller opening tribal fishery.

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